What happened to America’s heroes? True, we have television shows now that elevate someone as a crafty and lucky game show contestant, a dexterous modern ninja, or a brave kid with astounding talent.
As I write, the Trump scandal about Ukraine is unfolding. I turned off the television when he alluded to capital punishment for the folks in the White House who were implicated as informants on his repetitive, unpatriotic scandals.
Frankly, the most we tend to see about this abomination of an Administration are anonymous opinion pieces in a newspaper, folks being forced to resign for not toeing the line, and occasionally someone will sort of allude to the fact that they left the Administration because they weren’t seeing eye to eye with Trump.
Where are the heroes who stand up and say they will not accept scandalous, unethical, and outrageous behavior on the part of the President?
John McCain would surely be one, but he is dead. Many other Republican leaders bury their head in the sand, look out for #1, and care way too much about the stranglehold the Sociopath-in-Chief has on the heart of the Republican Party. My father was conservative and he would be mortified if he were alive today.
“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” – Thomas B. Macaulay
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni penned a frightening piece, containing this bracing paragraph:
“After more than five decades of reasonably virtuous living, I’m now told that I have betrayed my country and committed the ultimate crime. I did not clap during President Trump’s State of the Union address. …That’s not because I’m rooting against America. It’s because I’m rooting for it — and believe that we deserve better than a leader who uses language as sloppily and poisonously as Trump does, who reacts to every unwelcome message by smearing the messenger, and whose litmus test for patriotism is this and this alone: Do you worship me?”
The Week recently wrote this: “Former ambassador Joseph Wilson died Friday, his ex-wife Valerie Plame confirmed. He was 69. Wilson died at his home in New Mexico after a long diplomatic career throughout Africa. ‘He had the heart of a lion and the courage to match,’ Plame said of her ex-husband in a statement, adding that he died of organ failure. Wilson, who spent more than 20 years as a diplomat, went to Niger on White House orders in 2002 to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium to build a nuclear weapon. He later disputed former President George W. Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq on that premise, writing that the decision-making was unfounded. Wilson’s accusations eventually resulted in charges against then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby.” Sounds like a hero to me.
Considering that I just watched the movie Vice, I am very impressed by anyone who stood up to that autocratic, anti-American bullshit orchestrated by the likes of Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz, Yoo, and so on. What a charlatan this Cheney guy was! “As we ascend the social ladder, viciousness wears a thicker mask,” 20th-century psychologist and author Erich Fromm indicated.
“I am asking you to believe, not just in my ability to bring about a real change in Washington; I’m asking you to believe in yours.”
If you ask me, countless times Barack Obama turned in a severely underwhelming performance as POTUS, ranging from criticisms of his willingness and openness to talk about America’s deepest and oldest problem: racism. Nor did he set out to prosecute that cadre of criminals, Bush, Cheney, et. al. He just never lived up to the hype. He was no hero, he was a prudent and establishment leader. Some conservatives, unfairly, consider him an anti-hero; a charlatan. Some liberals consider him a huge let-down. It could have been worse, but it could have been better, I suppose.
Charles Malcolm Douglas writes the following, and I think it illustrates why I am so underwhelmed and disappointed when I hear of these towering figures, these military men with great honor, who face withering criticism and questioning from Senators and Congresspeople as to why they didn’t do more to stop Donald Trump from sabotaging and savaging our Constitution, the heart and soul of this country. He said: “The effective impact upon us of men of honor, rectitude, and goodwill is to arouse kindred impulses within us. We begin to detect in ourselves undeveloped capacities. The touch of the heroic awakens in us the slumbering hero.”
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
I felt nothing of the sort as I was watching former warrior Robert Mueller and the decorated Navy veteran Joseph Maguire, both life-long “servants” to their country, behave more like absolutely dispassionate jurists than men who are in the position to make a major impact on the course of this country and pound a nail into Donald Trump’s coffin. They claim they are “just following the law” and want to be prudent and proper, but we should remember that the heroes of Hitler’s Germany were not his counselors and his yes-men and his generals, but the twenty people who gave their lives trying to assassinate the nutcase. It’s like a game of cat and mouse, watching Adam Schiff (D-CA) try to get these so-called men of Honor to speak truth and admit something abundantly clear to all conscientious and upstanding viewers of the farce. I saw my best friend also continue unabated to work for the Trump Administration as a high-level Border Patrol official. I wonder what he would say now that it’s clear that Trump is worse than Nixon.
This is from Justin Amash, a Republican House-member from Michigan. He writes: “George Washington was so concerned as he watched political parties take shape in America that he dedicated much of his farewell address to warning that partisanship, although ‘inseparable from our nature,’ was the people’s ‘worst enemy.’ He observed that it was ‘the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.’”
“When we grant another person the status of hero, we instinctively protect his claim to superiority by denying our own full potential for empowerment.” ~ Sue Erikson Bloland
Washington said of partisanship, in one of America’s most prescient addresses: “The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty….”
He goes on to indict our system, which is clearly and presently dangerous to democracy, liberty, and other American ideals: “With little genuine debate on policy happening in Congress, party leaders distract and divide the public by exploiting wedge issues and waging pointless messaging wars. These strategies fuel mistrust and anger, leading millions of people to take to social media to express contempt for their political opponents, with the media magnifying the most extreme voices. This all combines to reinforce the us-vs.-them, party-first mindset of government officials.”
He left the Republican Party and calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump. In fact, anyone who does not call for the investigation and removal of Trump and his cronies from office was both asleep for the Bush/Cheney/Rove years, and knows little of German history, either. Anyone who says these things and acts like this is a hero, I say. It’s so refreshing to know he is alive and well.
“A hero is brave in deeds as well as words.” ~ Aesop
Another American of Middle-Eastern descent is the inimitable Ralph Nader. Alive, yes; well – I think he is certainly getting up there in years, and his stock fell to a permanent low when he played the dubious role of running against both Bush and Gore in 2000, which Gore lost by 575 votes in Florida. Besides that huge black mark on his record, a few of the things Nader has said over the years to indicate just how laser-focused the man has been about improving America:
The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS are thought of as foes by many people. Obama was virtually hated by all kinds of middle Americans. Priests have clearly abused their power over the years, coming out as amazing scandals involving cover-ups.
Corporate CEOs are notorious for putting the interests of the shareholders above all else, including law, ethics, the environment, the workers, and society at large.
Civil rights leader-turned Congressman, John Lewis, opines that “This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who built their careers on immoral compromise and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say, My party is the party of principles?”
Maybe America began as a country of pugilistic rebels, awash in slavery and aristocracy, and hasn’t progressed much since then. As a political progressive, I find this hard to stomach. I don’t mean to wax conservative, if you will, but part of me feels sure that America was once more of a “shining city on a hill”, as Reagan termed America.
“Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.” ~ Ronald Reagan
Perhaps Reagan is emblematic of the very depressing issue I am writing about; recently a tape surfaced of him having some racist dialogue with an obviously-racist Richard Nixon (who had many other anti-heroic traits as well). This, on top of all the other reasons why Reagan is no hero to America.
African-American author on a book about character I quite liked, Derrick Bell, writes that “We wish fervently to believe that America was founded on and has lived by ideals of social justice. In that effort, we expend great amounts of psychological energy trying to ignore a national history of eager exploitation of those on the bottom, no matter who they are.”
Hero Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that “We refuse to believe that the Bank of Justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
We really do need to get this straightened out, because time might not be on our side. Traitor-to-some, hero-to-others, Edward Snowden, sees a possible dystopia eclipsing America’s once-bright potential. He writes: “The fear I have most in regard to the outcome to America of the disclosures, is that nothing will change in the coming months and years it’ll just get worse. And then, eventually, at some point, some new leader will be elected who flips the switch and the people won’t be able to do anything at that point to oppose it, and it would turn into a tyranny.”
Stories and tales and legends abound in any civilization, often manifestations of the myths that all humanity seems to share. The grandest and most inspiring myth is, in my opinion, the idea that there is a “capital-G” God who is both severe and loving, Hebrew and Christian, capable and interested and good. But other stories, often told by great fiction writers and Hollywood, are perhaps more accessible. Think of the relationship between the imperfect hero, Daniel McCaffrey, played by Tom Cruise, in A Few Good Men. His foil was the similarly-nuanced character of Colonel Nathan Jessup, played ably by Jack Nicholson. I love the writing and the directing, which was a collaboration between writer Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner. Another wonderful film is the Denzel Washington/Meg Ryan movie, Courage Under Fire.
All of this can be very disconcerting. Humans are needful of meaning and belief. Author Jennifer Hecht frames it this way, and it’s poetic and satisfying when I read her characterization: “The experience of doubt in a heterogeneous, cosmopolitan world is a bit like being lost in a forest, unendingly beckoned by a thousand possible routes. …The initial horror of being lost utterly disappears when you come to believe fully that there is no town out there, beyond the forest, to which you are headed.”
Perhaps I am mistakenly looking for external, mythic-level heroes. Some kind of parent figure, something deeply emotionally-laden. Tennis star Arthur Ashe indicated that “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” ~ Harry S. Truman
The noted existentialist and author Albert Camus wrote about the myth of Sisyphus.
He said: “If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the area moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious.”
Here is a brief synopsis about Camus’ Sisyphus.
“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Perhaps whatever happened to America’s heroes is that they are just taking different forms now, compared to times-past. George Washingtons and Clara Bartons aren’t likely to reappear any time soon. Helen Keller and Harriet Tubman are long-dead. But maybe heroes are still among us, though they aren’t politicians and priests and businesspersons. The following stories can be heartening and compelling: LINK
The lesson there, if it is valid, is that one does not need a hero, one needs to be a hero by living in the right way. To me, that means living with proper values as your guides.
- If Justice is your treasured value, will you not find the right path, more or less, by and large?
- If you believe in Love, will your relationships and those around you not reflect this positively?
- Everyone can access Courage when they are afraid, but their Vision impels them forward anyway.
- Both Christians and atheists are moved by their respective values of Charity, Goodwill, and Humility, as well as Rationality, Skepticism, and Truth.
- Creativity, Passion, and Wisdom are tried-and-true values that have guided persons for millennia. Think about the lessons Aesop, Homer, and other ancient writers were trying to teach. Philosophers such as Socrates, Heraclitus, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca were trying to teach about values above all.
“Choose a heroic ideal, more as something to emulate, than as something to imitate. Examples of greatness like about us, living texts of renown: let each set before himself the greatest in his line, not so much as something to follow, as something to spur him on.” ~ Baltasar Gracián
“[America], if you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They’ll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They’ll think you’ve abandoned the rule of law. They’ll think you’ve fouled your own nest. The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn’t dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country’s hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.”
“Most people say that it’s the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” – Albert Einstein
“Character is ethics in action.” – Michael Josephson
“A great man is different from a charlatan in that he is ready to be the servant of the society.” ~ B. R. Ambedkar
“The hero is the man dedicated to the creation and/or defense of reality-conforming, life-promoting values.” ~ Andrew Bernstein
“One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one’s life has meaning, that one is needed in this world.”
“No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil. No earthly cause is entirely good. And to believe with absolute certainty that you are ‘on the right side of history,’ or on the right side of a battle between ‘good and evil’ is a dangerous form of idolatry.”
“I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seeds every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not a loss, it is adding to future life; it is the tree’s way of being. Strongly rooted perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind.”
“Beware of people who constantly assert their integrity and honor. People of character don’t have to point it out.” – Michael Josephson